France – Salesian pedagogy: what happens when “Papi, the clown” arrives at school?

03 May 2021

(ANS - Paris) - In Aveyron, the French Department of the Occitania Region, there are six elementary schools that are part of the "Don Bosco" network: in Bozouls, Saint-Géniez-d'Olt, Séverac-le-Château, Rodez, Onet-le-Château and Drulhe. The children of these schools have recently received a somewhat special visit; that of "Papi, the clown", sent to them at the request of the Provincial of the Salesians in France and Southern Belgium, Fr Daniel Federspiel. But what happens when "Papi, the clown" comes to class? A brief history brings us to the heart of Salesian pedagogy ...

It all begins with a letter from Fr Federspiel, wherein the Salesian tells how, during his travels, he met this clown whom he welcomed into his school in Paris, thinking he could help him. However, the poor clown soon showed that he could not read, write or do arithmetic; during his childhood he could not go to school and now, even if he wanted to learn, he was afraid of being mocked.

Upon reading the Provincial's letter, all the children said they would be happy to welcome him and there was no shortage of words to reassure him: "everyone goes at his own pace", "we will not leave him alone", "we will explain", "we will not make fun of him"," we are all here to learn! "...

And thus Papi the clown went to each class so that the students could share their knowledge with him and teach him a little. In one class, he learned to read by syllables, words and sentences and to do calculations, but not too difficult; in another, he learned about double-digit multiplications. Older children taught him to identify the subject and the verb, divisions and even geometry ...

For the students, this was obviously an opportunity to reflect on hospitality, acceptance of differences and respect for others. Each of them was able, on their own level, to offer what he or she knew and to help the poor clown overcome his weaknesses. They were made aware of the learning difficulties and realized how fortunate they were to be able to learn and pass on their knowledge. And for the teachers it was a moment of relief "in really difficult times", as well as a way to go back to the roots of their career choice.

For his part, the clown, an excellent magician, taught them some magic tricks instead: “You teach me what you can do, and I'll teach you magic” was the pact.

At the center of these meetings remains this message transmitted by "Papi, the clown": "We are rich, not for what we have, but for what we have learned to share".

The experience ended with another letter, this time from the clown from Paris, who thanked everyone for helping him make progress in such a short time and with so much patience and affection.

Grace Boscredon


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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